We have a ton of questions about SCiO, but if it can do what it purports to do, then we are already amazed. The handheld gadget is a pocket spectral meter. Spectroscopy is a large field that measures interactions of matter and energy, most commonly to identify component elements and/or properties of a material.
Depending on the lab and equipment, the matter may be hit using visible light, radiation, electromagnetic radiation, microscopic particles, sound waves, etc. While desktop spectroscopes are available in most college chemistry labs, for detailed analysis of more complex compounds, machines can range from the size of a xerox machine to 12 ton monstrosities.
Building bigger machines allows more powerful, precise measurements. However, there is a good argument to be made for making the technology smaller.
For one thing, a lot of the computing can now be done in the cloud, and with more complex algorithms and deep learning software, more information might be gleaned from less precise data. And, if the sensors can be made small and easy to use through a phone app, huge amounts of data might be collected which would partly compensate for less precise measurements.
Imagine crowd sourcing molecular analysis by enabling everyone with a smartphone to take measurements of their food, medications, household materials, water, etc. Imagine if anyone could quickly check for lead or other contaminants in water, or identify mercury in their fish, or identify biological contaminants in their chicken. Imagine if millions of avid gardeners were scanning their rhododendron for surprising new molecular compounds with possible practical applications.
SCiO isn’t there yet, but they are working on their final model, and upon release plan to include software modules for food analysis, medication analysis, and plant analysis. If it works and is popular, it may not be long before we are all more intimately aware of the materials in our lives.